African Union – The Power to Resist Foreign Intervention (I)

Thabo Mbeki former South African president

A decade ago an academic then at one of the South African Universities, Xavier Renou, wrote: “There is a permanent reluctance among academics to call a spade a spade and a predatory (or imperialist) policy as such.

In the case of French Foreign policy in Africa, very few academics have pointed at its dramatic consequences, and even fewer have been prepared to describe them as resulting from deliberate criminal choices aimed at fostering a small minority’s interest, at any cost.”-Xavier Renou: “A Major Obstacle to African Unity: the New Franco-American Cold War on the (African) Continent”, 2000?)

These are strong words with which we may differ. I quote them because they pose the challenge that at this Conference, in the interest of the peoples of Africa, we should have the courage to confront the African reality frankly, and therefore dare – to call a spade a spade!

I am certain that it is a matter of common cause among us that there were two issues which impacted on Africa in the context of the Cold War.

One of these was that the Cold War coincided with the historic period of the liquidation of the system of colonialism in Africa. The second was that as our Continent achieved its liberation, it got enmeshed in the intense and then unrelenting global struggle between capitalism and socialism, led respectively by the United States and the Soviet Union.

The overall theme of our Conference requires that we discuss the matter of ‘The Architecture of post-Cold War Africa’. Obviously, this means that we should say something, even briefly, about ‘The Architecture of Cold War Africa’.

In the context of the more complex reality we face today, it would indeed seem that it is a relatively easier task to discuss the latter issue, namely, ‘The Architecture of Cold War Africa’.

Let me state the historical reality relating to this ‘architecture’ in simple and perhaps simplistic terms.

Both the United States and the Soviet Union, the so-called ‘super-powers’, could not but, at least in principle, welcome the liquidation of the system of colonialism, and therefore our exercise across Africa of our right to self-determination.

Within the context of the Cold War, the problem arose because each of the ‘super-powers’, in their respective interests, intervened in Africa to help ensure that independent Africa acted in a manner which was consistent with their global objectives.

It is my firm view that in this regard the Soviet Union, and therefore the socialist perspective, occupied a strategically stronger position in terms of winning the allegiance of liberated Africa.

This was essentially because: in terms of Marxist-Leninist ideology, the assertion of the right of nations to self-determination, up to and including independence, was an essential part of the perspective of the global advance towards the victory of socialism; and, viewed in its context as anti-imperialist, the Soviet Union saw the anti-colonial movement as a strategic ally against its own opponent, imperialism and the imperialist powers.

The historical reality is that certainly many, and perhaps the majority of the African political forces that had been involved in difficult struggles to achieve liberation from colonial domination could not but be attracted to an anti-imperialist posture, which was sympathetic both to the ideas of socialism and partnership with the Soviet Union, the then leading socialist country.

The ‘ruling establishment’ in the United States, regardless of party affiliation relating to the Republican and Democratic Parties, which shared a common anti-communist and anti-Soviet ideology, understood the implications of the liberation of Africa from colonialism in the context of what I have said.

This ‘ruling establishment’ in the United States shared this understanding with the allied and major West European powers, which were also capitalist, and which the US had taken steps to attach to itself through such interventions as the Marshall Plan and various interventions to support the anti-Soviet and anti-communist formations in Western Europe.

Thus did the United States and West Europe, together, take fright at the possibility that Africa would take to a contrary path, which, in their view, would represent what they viewed as ‘the deadly disease’ of ‘Soviet expansionism’.

It was therefore inevitable that the dominant Western capitalist powers would intervene decisively in Africa to realise the objective, in their view, to achieve the strategic objective to ‘keep Africa within their sphere of influence’ and therefore, as much as possible, deny the Soviet Union any possibility to place Africa ‘within its own sphere of influence’.

Concretely, among other things, this resulted in such negative developments as the corruption of the African independence project through the establishment of the system of neo-colonialism, the overthrow of governments which resisted this, support for the white minority and colonial regimes in Southern Africa, seen as dependable anti-communist and anti-Soviet allies, the assassination of such leaders as Patrice Lumumba, Thomas Sankara and Eduardo Mondlane, sponsorship of such instrumentalities as UNITA in Angola and RENAMO in Moçambique, support for predatory and client regimes such as those of Mobutu in the then Zaire, and of Houphouet-Boigny in Côte d’Ivoire, and even such major catastrophes as represented by the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

To be cont’d.

Mr Mbeki, the former president of South Africa, made these remarks at a conference on The Architecture of Post-Cold War Africa – Between Internal Reform and External Intervention, organised by the Makerere University’s Institute of Social Research, Uganda, on Thursday.